It was not only in the UK that Wyeth (makers of SMA formula) was on the offensive during World Breastfeeding Week.
The company, which is about to launch a £3 million baby formula promotion campaign in the UK, is a member of the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) which has taken the Ministry of Health to court for the regulations it has introduced to implement World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements. PHAP ran advertisements during World Breastfeeding Week to support their call for the marketing regulations to be struck down. A past campaign was criticsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for being 'misleading, deceptive and malicious in intent'. See:
In the Philippines the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 16,000 babies die every year as a result of inappropriate feeding. WHO suggests in an advisory issued to correct the latest PHAP advertising campaign that formula-fed infants should be attended as a 'risk group' and that formula should be seen as the fourth option after a mother's milk or donated breastmilk.
WHO also comments on the lack of awareness that powdered infant formula is not sterile. We face the same problem of most companies not disclosing this information in the UK. See:
Last year Wyeth joined Nestlé in calling for the UNICEF and WHO representatives to be sacked after they spoke in favour of strong regulations, alleging they were 'not competent' to look after the welfare of Filipino children. See:
The access to health care we have in the UK means that infants who are formula-fed are unlikely to die, but they are more likely to suffer short and long-term sickness. Treating the higher incidence of gastro-entiritis in formula-fed infants alone was estimated in 1995 to cost £35 million per year.
All parents have a right to independent and accurate information on infant feeding including how to overcome breastfeeding difficulties and, if they are using formula, clear information on the risks and how to reduce them.
Whether it is in the UK or the Philippines, companies do not provide this: they idealise their products to undermine breastfeeding and don't give parents who use formula the information they need. They should be limited to providing scientific and factual information to health workers and ensuring there are better warnings and instructions on labels. See:
We will continue to work to hold the companies to account in the UK and the Philippines and hope for your support.
---Press release from Philippines health organisations
DOH, UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND (UNICEF) AND WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) CAUTION PUBLIC AGAINST PHAP’S MISLEADING INFORMATION ABOUT BREASTFEEDING
The Department of Health, World Health Organization and United Nations for Children’s Fund released a joint advisory the public on the true state of breastfeeding practices in the country today.
“We are appalled by the persistent distortion of data by PHAP,” DOH undersecretary Alex Padilla said. “They propagate misleading information that seriously undermines breastfeeding in the country.”
The group cited in particular the press releases and paid advertisements that appeared in newspapers during the commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week. The worldwide event is the widest and largest annual celebration of breastfeeding by advocates held every first week of August.
“The timing and nature of the materials are clearly unethical and is the very reason why the new implementing rules and regulations of Executive Order 51, or the Milk Code, is all the more imperative,” added Usec. Padilla.
The revised guidelines of the Milk Code impose an absolute ban on advertising, promotions, or sponsorships of breastmilk substitutes up to 24 months of age. The Supreme Court is currently studying the documents submitted by the DOH and PHAP following a much publicized oral argument last month.
The materials of PHAP cited studies and data by the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), DOH, WHO, and UNICEF that painted encouraging breastfeeding rates in the country.
According to Usec. Padilla, the contentions derived from those materials are deceptive. He cited the 2003 NDHS conclusions used by PHAP that “54% of Filipino mothers initiate breastfeeding in the first hour of life” and “Filipino infants are being breastfed more frequently”.
“A little more than half is not an encouraging statistic,” he asserted. “This ranks the Philippines as one of the countries with the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates in the world.
The same NDHS study he said showed dismal numbers where only 16.1% are exclusively breastfed for 4 to 5 months of age and 13% of Filipino babies were never breastfed.
The WHO also clarified data used by PHAP, particularly its recognition of using infant formula as “appropriate”.
“The WHO strongly recommends breastfeeding for its undeniable superior benefits,” said WHO country representative Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé.
Dr. Olivé discussed that breastfeeding can prevent diseases and promote better health to both mother and child.
He also said that breastfeeding can be done by a vast majority of women and only under exceptional circumstances does WHO recognize alternative feeding practices.
The first option is expressed breastmilk from the infant’s own mother. The second is breastmilk from a healthy wet nurse. The third choice is breastmilk from a human-milk bank.
“The use of breastmilk substitute is the last resort,” Dr. Olivé said. “In fact, infants who are not breastfed, for whatever reason, should receive special attention from the health and social welfare system since they constitute a risk group.”
Health studies in the past ten years show that not breastfeeding increases the likelihood of children suffering from diarrhea, pneumonia, asthma, allergies, chronic diseases, and even lower intelligence.
“Most people are also unaware that infant formula is not a sterile product,” Dr. Olivé stated.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WHO in February 2004 convened a panel of experts who concluded that intrinsic contamination of powdered infant formula with Enterobacter Sakazakii and Salmonella has caused serious illness leading to developmental sequelae and even death.
He said that it is important for consumers to know, especially those directly involved in caring for babies, that the infant formula they are using may contain pathogenic microorganisms and that their handling, storage, and preparation practices can increase health risks.
Colin Davis, the UNICEF Philippines Officer-in-Charge said: “Recent statements from the infant formula industry distort clear evidence and can confuse the public regarding two important facts: once, exclusive breastfeeding in the Philippines is declining; and two, the use of formula exposes infants to serious health risks. These ads are further proof that the National Milk Code needs to be rigorously implemented.”
“We want to set the record straight and call on the wisdom of the public,” Sec. Duque said. “It is the duty and responsibility of the DOH to inform the public about the risks and dangers to their health, especially those that concern our children.”
Earlier this year, Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council has already described the PHAP’s media campaign as “misleading, deceptive, and malicious in intent”.
Mr. Ziegler cited that the content of the communication materials by PHAP “manipulate data emanating from UN specialized agencies such as WHO and UNICEF, as well as the Department of Health” and “contribute to misleading the public by claiming that breastfeeding can not be done by a majority of women and that their products raise healthy, smart, and happy babies”.
Ms. Ma. Alexis Rodrigo
Senior Communication Assistant
Telephone: (632) 901-0173
Fax: (632) 901-0195
For Every Child
Health, Education, Equality, Protection